The delayed season of Big Brother kicked off last week amid many questions, both about safety and about who would be on the show. The latter was answered with a remarkably eclectic cast full of fan favorites, shrewd strategists, and blessedly few of the kind of drama vortexes Big Brother tends to favor. More than any in recent memory, this is a dream season for Big Brother fans, many of whom have been waiting for a second all-stars installment featuring players like Janelle, Kaysar, Keesha, and Daniele for years now. There's just one problem at the moment, and it's something that will sound insane for anyone who doesn't regularly watch Big Brother: it's not on enough.
I'll pause here for a moment as heads to explode over the notion that a trashy reality TV show that's already on three times a week needs to be on the air even more, but it's the truth. Remember first that in its original season, Big Brother aired five times a week, going off of the British template for the series. Granted, Season 1 wasn't very well received, and part of the re-tooling for Season 2 was that it got bumped down to three times a week. Since then it ain't been broke, so CBS has opted not to fix it. And for the most part, it's been good at three episodes. Most Big Brother casts have been toxic enough that you wouldn't want to see them more than three times a week anyway, and given how much else there's been to watch on TV in recent years — even in the dead of summer — we didn't need the competition.
But summer 2020 is a whole different animal, and suddenly changes across the TV landscape and the Big Brother game itself have made it screamingly obvious: Big Brother should be on four nights a week this summer. At least. Here's why:
Obviously these are very specific circumstances. We're a month away from what would have been the traditional start of the fall TV season, and the networks are nowhere near prepared to offer new programming. Certainly not at the level you'd need to fill up a primetime schedule. CBS will, of course, do their best to cobble together a combination of reruns, whatever banked shows they have (including that long-shelved new season of The Amazing Race), and various remotely-shot productions, but at the moment, Big Brother is the best thing the network has going. The time slots are plentiful! Let Big Brother expand to fit demand.
If you've watched even a little bit of Big Brother, you're familiar with its oft-repeated slogan "Expect the Unexpected." In other words, it's a part of the BB DNA to introduce new twists and turns to the game every season in order to keep the players on their toes. Some work, and some don't, but they tend to cramp the weekly BB schedule.
In any given season, Thursday episodes are when one houseguest is evicted and another is crowned the new Head of Household; Sundays are when the HoH nominates two players for eviction; Wednesdays are the Veto competition and, if necessary, a re-nomination; then it all starts over again. Whatever new twist is introduced into a season ends up having to wedge its way into that schedule.
In this season's case, the Safety Suite competition lets players compete to be safe for the week. This takes place before nominations, and thus takes up real estate on the Sunday episode, in turn making that episode cramped as hell. Producers and editors already need the Sunday episode to deliver the lay of the land after the eviction (or in this past Sunday's case, everybody moving in), get the new HoH's read on who they might nominate, tease those possible nominations, work in a modicum of strategy talk from the various corners of the house, and then spend five ungodly minutes watching the HoH weigh their options before we see the nomination ceremony. Now with the added Safety Suite twist, Sunday's episode could barely show anything that wasn't immediately related to that competition or the nominations. And that's where it gets truly vexing, because the beauty of a really good Big Brother season goes beyond game strategy.
I believe it was Tolstoy who said that all bad seasons of Big Brother are alike, but every great season of Big Brother is great in its own way. The bad seasons are unbalanced with too many obnoxious players and not enough people to root for in the end. The great seasons develop personalities all their own. You see that reflected in the current all-stars: Season 6 thrived on Janelle's blonde-bombshell dynamism; Season 14 saw meek Ian learn on the job and ultimately outmaneuver former winners like Dan and Mike Boogie. If you follow any of the YouTube accounts that post footage from the live feeds (or if, hardy soul that you are, you attempt to just sit and watch the live feeds), you know that there are small moments of humor or bonding or even the rare enlightening conversation that would make for great television if there was time for it.
Already, not one week into the game, the BB22 live feeds have captured moments like Keesha thinking Tyler is named Taylor… or perhaps Trevor.
But beyond mere silly moments, or more in-depth check-ins with these contestants with whom we're already familiar forming cross-season bonds we've been waiting to see forever, there are genuinely good, positive developments, like Ian opening up to Kaysar about being on the autism spectrum, and how that's affected his ability to play certain aspects of a very social game.
One thing about that Kaysar/Ian clip that also becomes apparent is that Big Brother is really letting these players go off when it comes to talking about previous BB players and seasons. Usually, the rule is that when houseguests start to talk about people outside the game — friends, enemies, family members — production will clamp down out of fear that they might get sued for any defamation towards people who haven't signed releases. But for whatever reason (maybe because former players already signed releases) it's open season to talk about former players and what they've done on and off the show. Who wouldn't kill to see some of these gossip sessions sprinkled onto the show?
There's also been talk of social issues and current events — one of the fringe benefits of actually having multiple houseguests of color this season. We even got to see Daniele smack down Cody for downplaying the seriousness of COVID-19. Any or all of these moments would make for great TV, if only there was time to show them.
The one obvious drawback to bumping Big Brother up to four times a week is that it would be a whole extra episode for production to put together, which would likely need to be worked out contractually. But if it means CBS needs to hire more people to produce the show — or throw more money at the people who are already making the show — it seems like that might be quite welcome in a town where a lot of people haven't been able to work for nearly six months now..
Look, twists are great. I can't wait to see which twists are ahead this season. But if they're squeezing out all the airtime that might be otherwise dedicated to the various foolishness/human moments of interaction that make BB surprisingly worthwhile, then something should be done to alleviate that. Come on, CBS. One more night.
People are talking about Big Brother in our forums. Join the conversation.
Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, The Herald Sun, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.